Reproducibility: Fraud is not the big problem

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Whistle-blowers risk a huge personal backlash in exposing scientific misconduct (see, for example, D. Soeken Nature 505, 26; 2014), but they can hope to correct only a tiny percentage of the published literature.

Since 1980, when MEDLINE started categorizing retractions, there have been 6,119 retracted papers, amounting to 0.03% of the 17.8 million published. Even if the majority of these retractions arise from misconduct (see, for example, F. C. Fang et al. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA; 2012), this still affects only a very small proportion of the literature overall.

From alarming estimates derived from studies by Bayer (F. Prinz et al. Nature Rev. Drug Discov. 10, 712; 2011) and Amgen (C. G. Begley and L. M. Ellis Nature 483, 531533; 2012) that some 60–70% of biomedical research papers may contain irreproducible results, it would seem that our time would be better spent investigating experimental irreproducibility rather than hunting down fraudsters.

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  1. Mendeley and the Reproducibility Initiative, California, USA.

    • William Gunn

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